Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ideals Laundered and Pressed

It’s no secret that I despise plastic bags.

Aside from being made from petroleum or natural gas, they’re a threat to our environment. Whether they’re clogging storm drains, finding their way into rivers and oceans, or simply sitting in landfills, they are wrecking havoc on our planet.

The US goes through an estimated 100 billion plastic bags a year.

I’ve tried to be plastic bag free for a little over a year now. I carry a Chico Bag…a nylon bag that scrunches up into a small ball ( … and I’ve trained John to do the same. He’s so scared of me that now, when he forgets his bag, I’ve seen him walk through the door with an armful of groceries!

And yet even bringing your own bag is not enough. There are those establishments that insist you take their plastic, whether you want it or not.

For instance, the grocery store likes to put your meat into small plastic bags to protect leakage. At Subway (not the greenest place to begin with), my sandwich always seems to wind up in plastic before I can say anything. And then there is the dry cleaner.

I dropped my clothes off this week and asked them not to put plastic over my clothes after they were cleaned. It was an organic dry cleaner, so I didn’t think this would be a big deal.

The girl behind the counter looked at me, confused. I kept explaining what I wanted. Her manager made his way over to me. I pleaded my case again and he nodded.

Two days later, I picked up my clothes and, of course, they were covered in plastic.

I saw the same, nodding manager and told him that I had asked for no plastic. He ripped the plastic off and threw it away. I shrieked, “No! The idea was to spare the plastic, not throw it away.” He walked away, still nodding.

I stood there for a moment and asked the counter girl for the plastic the nodding man just threw away. Now she was really confused. I politely but firmly reached around the counter, pulled it out of the trash and left.

Now I was stuck with a giant piece of plastic, which, instead of going into a landfill or the ocean, was going into my apartment. It can’t be recycled and can’t be reused...unless I want the grocery store to wrap a side of beef or Subway to encase a six-foot sub in it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Don't Give It 2 Me

Last Sunday, I went to Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet concert at Madison Square Garden. A tour that has made headlines not only for its amazing show, but also for its very sticky, not-so-sweet carbon footprint.

Apparently, each show leaves a stiletto-sized footprint that crosses over the borderline into 1,500 tons of not-so-vogue emissions – the equivalent of what 160 material girls create in a year!

This image went in and out of my head as I made the trek up the 10 flights of escalators that brought us to our seats.

We arrived early so we decided to get something from the concession stand. We knew getting anything healthy or green would be next to impossible, so we ordered two bottled waters. (I know, I know . . .)

I try to avoid plastic bottled anything, especially H20. With the amount of fossil fuels it takes to make bottles, the fact that most bottles end up as part of a floating island in the Pacific or in landfills with no hope of ever decomposing, not to mention the possibility of plastic leaching into my water…it’s not for me.

I forgave myself because I could at least take the bottles home and recycle them.

And then I saw the woman taking out two paper cups. “No!” I shouted. “We don’t use paper cups!” She stared at me. “We have to pour the water into the cup.”

John whispered, “Can we just go?” He knew where this was going. We were going to get thrown out of the Garden with nothing to show for our night but two plastic bottles.

But I couldn’t help myself. What possible good reason was there for pouring bottled water into a paper cup?

So I asked.

“People throw the bottles at the stage,” she said in disgust.

Are you kidding me? So not only are we hurting the planet, we’re hurting the performers too? What has this world come to? Madonna fans have gone from striking a pose to striking Madonna?

In shame, I took my unwanted paper cup with its hated plastic lid and went back to my seat. I drank some of the water as the cup began to get weak and the lid unsecure.

The show began and I put the paper cup in the back of my head for later guilt and pondering. It was time to enjoy my $65 ticket.

We reached the point of the show where she shows her “Get Stupid” video, a montage of explosions of war and Mother Theresa, Obama and McCain and, of course, our beautiful planet earth. It was at this point that I accidentally kicked the paper cup.

I looked down at it as Madonna chanted, “Get Stupid!”

I felt like I already had. I appreciated the video, but I would have preferred not to be part of the giant carbon footprint. (Or to have my foot soaking wet from the $5 water)


Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Water Runneth Over

I remember this short film from an episode of Sesame Street. It was a split screen. Each side showed a faucet with a bowl underneath it and a boy ready to brush his teeth.

On the left, the boy turned the water on, wet his toothbrush, turned the water off and began brushing, only turning the water back on to rinse.

On the right, the boy brushed away while the water ran.

The camera then panned over to the first kid's bowl. There was barely any water in it.

On the right, the bowl was overflowing.

But lately, I've had to question whether I was on the left or the right.

I was conscientious of my water usage, but what did it matter if I gave one more swoosh of the toothbrush in my mouth before I turned the water off?

Apparently, it does matter.

As it becomes clearer that so many of the earth's resources, like fresh water, are finite, it is important to take steps now to preserve what we do have so as not to leave our grandchildren with a crisis.

These days, I'm very careful about how long I let the water run. I bought a 5-minute timer for my shower and I soap up all my dishes before I turn the water on to rinse. If my kitchen were bigger than a walk-in closet, I would probably invest in an energy efficient dishwasher (only running it when it's full, of course).

So you can imagine how it drives me crazy to see store owners and apartment building workers hose down the sidewalks...especially when it's about to rain.

And I have a physical reaction when I see women in the restrooms let the water run while they dry their hands. Most notably...Miss Niagra Falls.

She works on our floor. Everyone knows her. Even the non-greenies in my office will come back from an encounter with her in the bathroom and roll their eyes in disgust.

The other morning I was in the bathroom and I heard the water turn on. I knew it was her. I could tell by the angry way the water was pouring out. Forceful. Hot. I emerged from the stall and there she was...standing there, looking at herself in the mirror, drying her hands, slowly...carefully...water running.

I went to the sink and washed my own hands. I tried to control myself. I really did. But it was too much for me to handle. She might as well have been running her fingers down an aquatic chalk board.

I contemplated the repercussions of saying something.

But instead, I turned my faucet off, walked over to her sink and shut off the water. As she stared at me half in shock, half pissed off, I threw my towel away and quickly exited.

I felt shaky as I left and went out of my way to avoid that bathroom for a few days. But I soon decided to face her again. Now when I see her, she's cautious but friendly and she usually waits for me to leave before turning the faucet on.

Maybe I made my point.

Now I'm thinking of going up to one of those shop owners or apartment guys and asking them to turn off their hoses.

Or maybe I'll just do it for them.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Clean Shower Technology

I watched the VP debate last week and to my dismay, both candidates voiced support for clean coal technology.  I expected this from Mrs. "Global Warming Isn't Man Made," but I was surprised to hear it from Joe Biden.   This technology basically consists of washing the coal and storing the carbon by-products.  OK, it's a little more complicated.  But no less harmful.

Cleaning coal was about the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of.  Until I was faced with an even bigger challenge.

Cleaning my bathroom.
When I decided to go green, I changed out all of my chemical cleaners with earth-friendly ones. I felt so good that I was no longer exposing myself, my husband or my dog to harsh chlorines and bleaches.  My counters smelled like grapefruits and melons; my mirrors sparkled with scents of fresh rain; and my shower was . . . moldy.

I know!  It's gross.  But my bathroom gets no natural light, so once you shut it down for the day, it becomes a mold playground.  I tried a "healthy alternative" spray called Daily Shower, but it didn't work. I tried cleaning it more frequently, but that didn't seem to be cutting it either. And my latest cleaner was a summer cucumber-scented failure.  

So I caved.   I went out and bought something I swore I would never buy.


The guilt consumed every inch of me as I put it in my reusable shopping bag.  What a hypocrite! Even the bag screamed at me, "What are you doing??"  

I got home and pulled out the nasty bottle, flung open the shower curtain and got to work. I sprayed till the bottle was almost empty. I didn't even rinse and the grout was already turning white.

Then my nose started to burn.

I had to escape.  The fumes were gagging me.  John evacuated his office with a shriveled up nose.  We flung open the windows but to no avail.  We decided to get Bailey out of there.   When we came back an hour later, the whole building smelled like the city pool on 23rd Street.

It took days for the smell to go away.  I could only imagine what it was doing to our brain cells, let alone the pipes, ground water, and whatever else it touched.  However, the shower head, tub and curtain remained mold-free.

I'm investigating better, greener alternatives.  Meanwhile, before any candidate thinks about committing our country to clean coal technology, I suggest they come up with a safe, environmentally friendly way to clean my shower.